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Special Event

Clinton Announces Findings from Human Genome Project to be Shared with Global Scientific Community

Aired March 14, 2000 - 3:22 p.m. ET


BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: Gentlemen, let me interrupt if I may. Forgive me, the president is about to make announcement on sharing information now concerning the Genome Project.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you and welcome to the White House.

Thank you, Secretary Daley. And thank you, Dr. Lane, for your leadership. Secretary Shalala. Dr. Caldwell (ph). Representative Nick Smith, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, thank you for your support of science and technology in the United States Congress, across party lines.

We welcome Sir Christopher Myer (ph), the British ambassador to the United States here to be with us today.

Every year I look forward to this day. I always learn something from the work of the honorees. Some of you I know personally, others I've read your books. Some of you I'm still trying to grasp the implications of what it is I'm supposed to understand and don't quite yet.


CLINTON: But this has been -- I must say, one of the great personal joys of being president for me has been the opportunity that I've had to be involved with people who are pushing the frontiers of science and technology and to study subjects that I haven't really thought seriously about since I was in my late teens, and I thank you for that.

When Congress minted America's first coin in 1792, one of the mottoes was "Liberty, parent of science and industry." Very few of those coins survive, but the Smithsonian has lent us one today, I actually have one. It's worth $300,000.


CLINTON: Not enough to turn the head of a 25-year-old dot-com executive.

(LAUGHTER) CLINTON: But to a president, it's real money.


CLINTON: And I thought you might like to see it because it embodies a commitment that was deep in the consciousness of Thomas Jefferson and many of our other founders, and we could put the same inscription on your medals today.

You have used your freedom to ask and answer some of the greatest questions of our time. Each of you has been a brilliant innovator and more, breaking down barriers between disciplines, broadening the frontiers of knowledge, bringing the products of pure research into everyday lives of millions of people, helping to educate the next generation of inventors and innovators.

For this, America, and indeed the entire world, is in your debt. It is terribly important that we continue to open the world of science to every American.

The entire store of human knowledge is now doubling every five years. In just the eight years since I first presented these medals think about what has occurred. In 1993, no one's computer had a zip drive or a Pentium chip. There were only 50 sites on the World Wide Web -- amazing -- January, 1993. Today there are about 50 million.

In 1993, cloning animals was still science fiction, but Dolly the sheep would be born just four years later.

Since 1993 we've sent robots to roll on Mars, created prototype cars that get 70 to 80 miles a gallon, invented Palm Pilots that put the Internet on our belts and lead to the increasing nightmares of a busy life.


CLINTON: The work that you and your colleagues have done has changed everything about our lives. It has brought us to the threshold of a new scientific voyage. It promises to change everything, all over again.

Perhaps no science today is more compelling then the effort to decipher the human genome, a string of three billion letters that make up our genes. In my lifetime, we'll go from knowing almost nothing about how our genes work, to enlisting genes in the struggle to prevent and cure illness. This will be the scientific breakthrough of the century, perhaps of all time.

We have a profound responsibility to ensure that the life-saving benefits of any cutting-edge research are available to all human beings. Today we take a major step in that direction by pledging to lead a global effort to make the raw data from DNA sequencing available to scientists everywhere, to benefit people everywhere.

To this end, I am pleased to announce a ground-breaking agreement the United States and the United Kingdom, one which I reconfirmed just a few hours ago in a conversation with Prime Minister Blair and one which brings the distinguished British ambassador here today.

This agreement says, in the strongest possible terms, our genome, the book in which all human life is written, belongs to every member of the human race.

Already the Human Genome Project, funded by the United States and the United Kingdom, requires its grant recipients to make the secrets that they discover publicly available within 24 hours. I urge all other nations, scientists and corporations to adopt this policy and honor its spirit. We must ensure that the profits of human genome research are measured not in dollars, but in the betterment of human life.


CLINTON: Already we can isolate genes that cause Parkinson's disease and some forms of cancer, as well as a genetic variation that seems to protect its carriers from AIDS. Next month, the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Project will complete DNA sequences for three more chromosomes, whose genes play roles in more than 150 diseases from leukemia, to kidney disease, to schizophrenia, and those are just the ones we know about.

What we don't know is how these genes affect the process of disease and how they might be used to prevent or to cure it. Right now, we are Benjamin Franklin with electricity and a kite, not Thomas Edison with a usable light bulb.

As we take the next step and use this information to develop therapies and medicines, private companies have a major role. By making the raw data publicly available, companies can promote competition and innovation and spur the pace of scientific advance. They need incentives to throw their top minds into expensive research ahead. They need patent protection for their discoveries and the prospect of marketing them successfully, and it is in the government's interest to see that they get it.

But as scientists race to decipher our genetic alphabet, we need to think now about the future and see clearly that in science and technology the future lies in openness. We should recognize that access to the raw data and responsible use of patents and licensing is the most sensible way to build a sustainable market for genetic medicine. Above all we should recognize that this is a fundamental challenge to our common humanity and that keeping our genetic code accessible is the right thing to do.

We should also remember that, like the Internet, super computers and so many other scientific advances, our ability to read our genetic alphabet grew from decades of research that began with government funding. Every American has an investment in unlocking the human genome, and all Americans should be proud of their investment in this and other frontiers of science.

I thank all of you for all you have done to build international and national support for American investment in science and technology. I am grateful that this administration has had the opportunity to increase our funding for civilian research every year, and that we have requested an unprecedented increase this year, in areas from nano-technology, to clean energy, to space exploration.

As a new century opens, we're setting out on a new voyage of discovery, not just in the human cells, but into the human heart. We cannot know what lies ahead. Each new discovery presents even more new questions. What is the purpose of the 97 percent of our genetic makeup whose function we don't know? What will we find in the genes left to identify?

How will we make sure the benefits of genetic research are widely and fairly shared? How will we make sure that millions of Americans living longer lives also live better and more fulfilling ones?

Almost 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark set out on a voyage of discovery that was planned in this room, where Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis laid out maps on tables right where you're sitting and, though it would be politically incorrect today, tromped around on animal skins on the floor.


CLINTON: That discovery would not only map the contours of our continent, but expand forever the frontier of our national imagination.

Before setting out, when Meriwether Lewis was here in the East Room with Thomas Jefferson poring over maps and sharing the lessons in natural science, he actually lived on the south side of this room in two small rooms that Thomas Jefferson had constructed in this big room for him.

I must say today, I wish I could ask all of you to do the same.


CLINTON: I always feel that when I do this the wrong person is talking. I wish we could hear from all of you today.

One of the things that I wish I could do a better job of as president is sparking...

BATTISTA: President Clinton announcing today that, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the two have agreed that all raw data discoveries in the Human Genome Project will be made available to the global scientific community in the search for better health research. The president saying that, to that end, he hoped it was measured in dollars -- not in dollars, rather, but in the betterment of human life.


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